Education and Training High school plus training
Salary Median—$22.28 per hour
Employment Outlook Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Railroad conductors supervise train crews and are responsible for the safety of the passengers and crew who ride on their trains. Some conductors, known as road service conductors, work on trains that carry passengers or freight locally or long distances. Other conductors work in the train yard and are called yard conductors or yardmasters.
Before trains leave the station, road service conductors receive train orders by telephone, fax, or computer from the dispatcher at the railroad's central office. These orders include listings of the cargo and their routes with the scheduled stops. Conductors must make sure that the crews of their trains understand these orders.
Conductors inspect each car of their trains, to make sure the operating mechanisms have been properly monitored and are working. If the repairs cannot be made during the run, conductors must instruct engineers to remove the defective cars. Conductors see that cars are added or removed at the proper points for picking up or unloading cargo.
Conductors signal to engineers when they want their trains to leave stations or train yards. On passenger trains they sometimes collect tickets and cash fares, and they may give information to passengers.
At the end of their trips road service conductors report to company officials, informing them of the number of passengers carried and the time their trains departed and arrived. If the trains carried cargo, they must report on its condition when their trains reach their destinations.
Yard conductors supervise all the workers and activities in the rail yard. Some cars are sent to special tracks to be unloaded of their cargo, and other cars must be prepared to leave at scheduled times. Yard conductors give engineers instructions to assemble, disassemble, and move cars. Usually, engineers direct cars by computer, but some cars may need to be moved manually by yard workers.
Education and Training Requirements
It takes several years for conductors to get their positions because they must be promoted from other railroad jobs. Almost all are high school graduates. Helpful high school courses include electronics and manual arts, such as wood and metal shop. Part-time work on railroads during the summer and holiday seasons may be available and is valuable experience.
Many employers require aspiring conductors to complete training programs administered by either railroad companies or community colleges. Employers usually require job applicants to pass physical examinations, drug and alcohol screening, and criminal background checks.
Those who want to become conductors are tested on their knowledge of signals, timetables, operating rules, and other subjects. After passing these tests, potential conductors are made temporary conductors until full-time positions are available. Temporary conductors, also called "extra-board conductors," fill in for regular conductors who are sick or on vacation.
Railroads usually keep separate seniority lists for road service and yard conductors. However, depending on the railroad, some yard conductors may advance to freight work and eventually to passenger trains.
Getting the Job
Job seekers can apply directly to railroad employment offices or talk to the superintendents of railroads' local divisions. Newspaper classified ads and Internet job sites may provide employment leads.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Conductors are already at the top of their field. However, those who show special ability with people may become train masters or passenger agents.
The employment outlook for conductors is poor through 2014. The demand for railroad freight service will grow as the economy and transportation of goods expand; however, employment will decline because of technology that allows road service conductors and other workers to make more runs per day. In addition, new rules allow trains to travel with smaller crews. As a result, the industry is eliminating positions vacated by workers who retire. The number of yard conductors will also decline because coupling and uncoupling of cars is automated, and the amount of supervision needed for yard workers is being reduced.
Railroad service conductors travel most of their working day and may spend a great deal of time away from home. While yard conductors generally work forty-hour weeks, service conductors often work longer hours. Full-time conductors have set schedules that they follow year after year. Extra-board conductors, on the other hand, usually have irregular schedules and work on short notice.
Conductors have responsible jobs and must be able to direct the work of others. They must be courteous to passengers and have working knowledge of how trains operate. In addition, they must have good eyesight and hearing and be in good health.
Earnings and Benefits
Pay for railroad conductors varies with the size of the railroad and the type of duties. In 2004 the median pay for railroad conductors was $22.28 per hour. Because most conductors are unionized, wages are usually guaranteed by contract. Generally, conductors who work in passenger or freight service get a full day's pay after they have made a run of a certain number of miles or have worked a certain number of hours. Conductors who work overtime receive time-and-a-half pay. However, many contracts limit the number of hours conductors can work or the amount of miles they can ride each month. After conductors have put in a certain number of miles or hours of work, they are often replaced by extra-board conductors. Extra-board conductors earn less than regular conductors because they work fewer hours each week.
Where to Go for More Information
Association of American Railroads
50 F St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-1564
United Transportation Union
14600 Detroit Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44107-4250
Benefits usually include paid sick days and vacations, pensions, and disability plans. Conductors' families are usually able to travel at reduced rates or free of charge.